The Canby School District has targeted the week of Feb. 8 for reopening facilities and classrooms to the youngest of elementary school students for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic closed schools across the state nearly 11 months earlier.
The news came during a presentation from district staff at the Canby School Board’s regular meeting Jan. 7, as a growing group of community members — including some who spoke earlier in the evening — push for reopening immediately.
“It’s a goal,” Superintendent Trip Goodall told board members of the Feb. 8 target return date for kindergarten through third-graders. “I think we need to still be able to recognize that there are a number of things we’re going to need to be able to satisfy.”
Not the least of which are the coronavirus metrics that have been put in place by Governor Kate Brown and the Oregon Health Authority.
Though a surprise decision by Brown last month made the metrics advisory rather than compulsory, county health officials have still urged the district to abide by them as much as possible.
“They told us that even though the metrics are advisory, we should still be following them,” Goodall said. “There is always risk to in-person learning while in that red or extreme risk category, which we are in at this moment. We are not where we want to be with regard to community spread.”
When schools do reopen, participation will not be mandatory. Indeed, the district plans to also continue its two current learning models — Connected At-Home Learning and the Canby Online Learning Academy — for families who are not ready to return to in-person because of coronavirus fears or because their children have thrived in the distance learning environment.
Due to class size and social distancing restrictions, even the in-person option will be a hybrid approach that still incorporates look very different than the days before the pandemic, with mandatory masks, staggered schedules and rapid on-site testing of Covid-19.
“I am a strong believer in parent choice,” Goodall said. “Our job is to present appropriate options and the right information to allow parents to determine the best way to have their child educated during this pandemic.”
In other ways, the Canby School District is ready to bring kids back into the classroom for the first time since the pandemic struck Oregon in March 2020.
Communications Coordinator Autumn Foster told the board facilities have been outfitted with new HVAC and disinfecting protocols, six feet of distance between desks, directional signage and other accouterments of the Covid era.
“Our classrooms are set up and ready to go,” she said.
At the same time, district staff made clear that new and updated guidance from OHA and the Oregon Department of Education that is expected by Jan. 19 will likely require some additional work.
Returning staff and students to the classroom will also require negotiations with the Canby Education Association, the local union representing teachers and other certified employees.
Goodall told the school board he is confident that a suitable path forward can be found, citing a strong working relationship with the union in the past, particularly over the past 10 months of the pandemic.
If the district is successful in bringing back K-3 students without significantly contributing to the spread of Covid-19, grades 4-6 would be next to return. In an email Friday, Principal Greg Dinse said a return for high school students is “being considered the final phase of this process” at this time.
“We will be assisting the District effort and have begun planning to ensure full K-12 alignment,” Dinse said. “Most likely, we will have a limited return to school through some supplemental programs designed to help struggling students.”
These efforts and developments, while related, are separate from the planned return of athletic programs, Dinse noted, which are governed by the Oregon School Activities Association and have different guidelines.